GOLDEN CHARIOT: THE ONLY LUXURY TRAIN OF SOUTH INDIA. FIND OUT WHAT IT’S LIKE.

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The Golden Chariot, luxury train of South India

THE SOUTHERN SPLENDOUR ROUTE OF GOLDEN CHARIOT, the luxury train of South India is irresistible. It covers the best of Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Pondicherry in 7 nights and 8 days. The Southern Splendour of Golden Chariot starts from Bengaluru and covers destinations such as Chennai, Mahabalipuram aka Mammallapuram, Puducherry aka Pondicherry, Thanjavur, Trichy, Madurai, Kanyakumari, Kovalam, Alleypey and Kochi. When the Karnataka State Tourism Development Corporation (KSTDC) invited me on a Media Trip to Golden Chariot, I instantly said yes. This was also the trip when I started traveling again after a break of few months because I was tired of traveling. I knew it would take something special to make me fall in love with travel again. I am glad I boarded the right train, the Golden Chariot. It is now one of my finest travel memories.

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View of a sleeper class from Golden Chariot, the only luxury train of South India. I love both!

Indian Railways has been my choice number one when it comes to the mode of transport. Trains are close to my heart. In some way or the other, trains have been a part of more than 90 % of my journeys. However, it was the first time I was traveling in a luxury train. I am a hotel management (IHM Lucknow) pass-out. During my industrial training in the palatial Taj Palace Hotel in New Delhi, I was awed by the Orient Express restaurant.

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The Bar Madira at Golden Chariot, the luxury train.

The theme of the restaurant was the famous luxury train of Europe. I would stare at it, mouth agape, imagining how the real Orient Express must have been like. Experiencing the Orient Express is a false dream since it has been discontinued. However, India has many luxury trains with impeccable service, food and delightful destinations to choose from. Southern Splendour of Golden Chariot is a clear winner because of the variety it offers in such short span of time. The train derives its name from the famous Stone Chariot in Hampi, a world heritage site in Karnataka.

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Indian and foreign guests at the Golden Chariot, luxury train.

We were welcomed with much fanfare at Hotel Taj West End, Bangalore. We were registered at a desk followed up by a high tea and power point presentation by Mr. Abhijay Verma, general manager. The evening was closed with a wonderful performance by trained classical dancers. The Thanjavur doll dance won my heart. It actually seemed like that the dolls and not humans were dancing.

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Dancers performing Thanjavur doll dance at Taj West End Bangalore. It was the opening ceremony of the Golden Chariot, luxury train.

As soon as we arrived at the Yeshwantpur Railway Station in Bengaluru, the music makers welcomed us with aplomb. Wearing impeccably white shirts and lungi (sarong), they passionately played the thavil, a drum hanging from their shoulder with a cloth locally called nadai. Their fingers were covered with thimble like finger caps. Made of rice flour or maida flour, the caps are called Koodu.The other man played Nadaswaram, a metallic pipe which flares up at the bottom like a bell.

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The bar Madira. Golden Chariot, luxury train of South India.

Both Thavil and Nadaswaram are ancient musical instruments of South India. These are widely used in weddings, temples and carnatic music. The women garlanded us as the curious crowd jumped from across the barrier to get a glimpse of the train interiors and its occupants. The theme of curious onlookers continued for the entire journey. People would get curious and excited every time the train passed through a destination or was parked at a station. On one of the day, I saw the railway attendants of another train requesting to catch a glimpse of the interiors of the Golden Chariot. Moments like these made me grateful that such an opportunity came my way. Moments like these gave me the epiphany that we are in the midst of something special and exclusive.

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MY FIRST REACTION: THE ENTRY TO THE GOLDEN CHARIOT VIA MADIRA BAR

I vividly remember my reaction as soon as I entered the Golden Chariot. We made our first entry in the Golden Chariot through the only bar of the train called Madira (Meaning alcohol). “Wow”, that was all I could manage as soon as I entered the bar Madira in the Golden Chariot. It took me a while to accept that the luxurious furnishings and the well stocked bar was indeed inside an Indian train. As if to calm our nerves we were served complimentary red wine and white wine.

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Me in the bar of Golden Chariot. Luxury Train Of South India. Pic by Ami Bhat

I couldn’t help but minutely notice each and every detail of the bar, smile never leaving my lips. It was something which I had never experienced before despite having traveled across more than 150 destinations in India and beyond since 2008. For the entire trip, Madira bar was our exit point for everyday sightseeing. The entire Golden Chariot train,. We discovered was nothing less than a palace. Be it the furniture, the furnishings, the carpeting, the food, the service or the facilities, everything matched the level of any 5 star property.

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Me in my room in the Golden Chariot, the luxury train.

ROOMS OF GOLDEN CHARIOT, THE LUXURY TRAIN OF SOUTH INDIA!

I was curious to see the rooms. Each room had either twin beds or double beds. Interestingly, the décor of each coach of the Golden Chariot is designed differently. Christened after the famed dynasties of South India, viz. Yadukula, Hoysala, Adilshahi, Ganga, Chalukya, Vijayanagara, the décor of each room and coach reflected the architectural style of the respective era. The luxury train is managed by Mapple hotels. There are total 18 coaches with 11 passenger coaches boasting of well equipped private cabins (Rooms). Each room was appointed with a television.

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Madira bar, The Golden Chariot, luxury train.

Since cable TV is not possible due to the movement, we were given a choice of watching films on demand. Not a TV person, I used my leisure time reading the books on Karnataka and Mysore which were thoughtfully kept on the table near my bed. Some of the rooms had foldable berths which you can pull down if required; just like in regular trains. This means that upto 3 individuals can accommodate in some of the rooms.

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Views from my room in Golden Chariot, luxury train of South India

Since I had the room to myself, the child in me would hop on to the either of the twin beds. If the train moved in day, I would sit by the bed on the window side and admire the change in the beautiful sceneries of South India. Palm fringed landscapes, huge water bodies, charming huts, and mountains dominated the views from the train window. Scores of wind mills (at Aralvaymoli station near Kanyakumari) caught my attention. This is my favourite pastime every time I am in an Indian Train. However, doing it in a private room in an air conditioned luxurious train is something I will not forget in a lifetime. Most of the movement of train was during the night. On only few occasions did we get to see moving sceneries since most of the day was spent in sightseeing.

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My Room in the Yadukula Coach of the Golden Chariot, the luxury train of South India.
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Attached washroom in Golden Chariot, luxury train.

The washrooms are appointed with shaving kit, dental care, soaps, shampoo, conditioner, bath gel, moisturizer and slippers. Despite the tiny size of the washroom, space management has ensured that the rack to keep toileteries, shower area, W.C. and the washbasin are compartmentalized making the movement easy and swift. It was a weird feeling for me to have a hot shower in a moving train. The room has two large mirrors; one is in the washroom above washbasin and the other one is on the washroom door, towards the room side.

FACILITIES OF THE GOLDEN CHARIOT, LUXURY TRAIN:

A personalized room attendant is appointed in each coach. All one has to do is press the buzzer and the attendant will appear on your door, ready to serve you with a smile. Not much of a fussy traveler, I never used this facility but it’s a great idea to appoint each room with an attendant. It helps especially the elderly for anything they might need. The attendants sleep near the entrance of their respective coaches. Each coach is also appointed with a well stocked pantry. This is important because due to the layout of the linear palace, it takes time to reach the other coaches or restaurants and bar. Even luxury has its limitations! Also, I wished there was an individual temperature control panel in the room. In case a guest wanted to increase or decrease the temperature, he/she was required to use the buzzer and instruct the room attendant.

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Me with the room attendant of Yadukula coach. The Golden Chariot, luxury train of South India.
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Me at the sit out area, Golden Chariot. Luxury Train.

Some space is left at one end of each coach for a sit out area. 4 chairs and 2 tables are placed next to the door windows. The walls of the sit out area are decorated with South Indian elements such as dance themed face masks. The tables are stocked with fresh newspaper. Every day, there are announcements done in the train. The announcement reaches each corner of the train including rooms, washrooms and spa etc. There is a well appointed business centre as well. Laundry facility is available with a same day return policy. Besides a readily available first aid kit, a doctor on call is also available at each station. All coaches are open, not locked. All 4 doors have only one top latch provided for a quick escape during any emergency. All the services at the spa are chargeable. There are many therapies to choose from.They have a menu card for the same.

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The Golden Chariot, luxury train of South India halts at Aralvaymoli near Kanyakumari. Scores of wind mills dotted the landscape.

The Madira Bar of The Golden Chariot: The bar at Golden Chariot is grand. Thanks to its well planned layout, rich furnishings and a lively ambiance, it was the most preferred place for all the passengers to have a conversation, sip wine, read books or socialize. Interactive events like live South Indian cooking demo was held in this area. The women also flocked to the bar to get their palms painted with Mehandi/Heena during an event. The best part: There is no closing time for the bar. The bar stays open till the last drink is ordered. The consumables at the bars are chargeable separately. But oh, there are happy hours as well.

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Chess and other pastimes at Madira Bar. The Golden Chariot, luxury train of South India.

THE RESTAURANTS AND FOOD AT THE GOLDEN CHARIOT, LUXURY TRAIN

There are 2 restaurants in the Golden Chariot. The food in Golden Chariot is so tasteful that I used to wait for my next meal every day. In fact the food and service in Golden Chariot is one of its highlights. Mr. Mahender Singh Rathore, food and beverage manager has been the part of the management ever since its inception. He personally takes care of the need of each guest. I talked to some foreign guests from Canada, Fiji and Ireland and they seemed delighted with the quality of the European cuisine and service on board. Every day, the breakfast and dinner was aboard the Golden Chariot Train. The lunch was served in the luxury hotels of the cities we visited. The breakfast aboard the Golden Chariot comprised of fresh fruits, juices and a choice of continental and Indian meals. I was impressed with the freshness of the food despite the change in its city every day. The executive chef Deepak Chaubey told me, “We source fresh ingredients every day. We have our tie ups at each station which facilitates it. Quality is never compromised.”

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Indian Food in the Golden Chariot, luxury train of South India.

The breakfast and dinner in Golden Chariot also had a choice of continental food. Below are some of the dishes I stuffed my face with.

Breakfast (Indian) –Masala Dosa, Aaloo Paratha, Idli, Palak Poori, Khara and Kesari Bhath, Gobhi Paratha, Khara Pongal, Masala Vada, Poori Bhaji, Paneer Paratha, Shavige Bhath, Ajwaiini Poori.

Breakfast (Non Indian): Cheese platter with olive and crackers, Muffins, Croissants with assorted jams, honey and butter, Wheat Flakes, Corn Flakes, Oatmeal, Muesli, Seasonal Cut fruits, juices.

Beverages (Non Alcoholic) – Tea (Darjeeling/Masala/Earl Grey/English Breakfast/Green Tea), Coffee (South Indian Filter/Cappucino/Espresso/Latte), Hot Chocolate

Soups served were Mulligatawny Soup, Tamatar Dhaniya Shorba, Crème Dubarry, Mushroom and Barley Soup

Salads– Grilled pineapple and prunes salad, Creamy cucumber with cashew kernels, Crispy coleslaw, Three Bean Salad.

Entrée– Bouqueterie of vegetables and herbed potatoes, Basil Scented Vegetable Skewers, Grilled Mediterranean Vegetables with Fruit Salsa, Fettuccine Alfredo,

Indian– Manguluru Paneer Masala, Mysuru Brinjal Curry, Drumstick Ulli Sambhar, Zafarani Pulao, Lal Mirch Paratha, Mirch Bhutta Makhana, Kandhari Kofta, Hare Cholia Te Paneer, Khattey Aaloo, Tawa Paratha, Panchras dal, Jeera Rice, Tomato Raita, Palak Khumb, Paneer Lababdar, Kadi pakodi, Aloo Udaygiri, Kerala Parotta, Angoori Pulao

Dessert – Tender coconut soufflé, Gulab Jamun, Dharwadi Bendekai, Pineapple Strudels, Nariyal Til Sikkha, Tiramisu, Sheer Korma, Apple Cinnamon Pie, Zafrani Gajar aur Badam Kheer.

Pictures above- (Left to right) 1) Executive chef Mr. Deepak Chaubey; 2) Continental dish served in the Golden Chariot, luxury train.

The Staff and Service: The staff is courteous, very attentive and gives importance to the smallest of request from the guests.

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The Tour Map of Southern Splendour Golden Chariot

Below are the two routes of the Golden Chariot, the only luxury train of South India:

Golden Chariot Pride of South Brief Itinerary: Bangalore-Chennai & Mammallapuram-Pondicherry-Thanjavur-Madurai-Trivandrum & Kovalam Beach-Kerala backwaters & Kochi-Bangalore

Southern Splendour Golden Chariot Brief Itinerary: Bangalore-Kabini-Mysore-Hassan-Hampi-Badami-Goa-Bangalore

I covered the Southern Splendour.

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Foreign guests at the Golden Chariot, luxury train of South India.

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The bus used for sights-seeing for guests of the Golden Chariot, the luxury train.

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Me in one of the restaurants of the Golden Chariot, the luxury train of South India.

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Pictures (Left to Right)- Spa, Gym and Aisle of the Golden Chariot. Please click to enlarge.

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Cooking demo by executive chef and team at Madira Bar, the Golden Chariot, luxury train of South India.
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Scenes from my window at The Golden Chariot, luxury train of South India.
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Aralvaymoli near Kanyakumari is abundant of wind mills. The Golden Chariot, luxury train of South India halted here for sometime.
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The view of Sleeper Class from one of the windows of The Golden Chariot, luxury train of South India. Both are dear to me.

P.S. The pictures featuring me clicked by Ami Bhat and Swati Jain. Rest of the pictures are clicked by me

Find out how Hollywood actress Jennifer Aniston makes a new friend on Emirates Flight!

Who doesn’t love the TV sitcom F.R.I.E.N.D.S.? I grew up watching it and even now I keep seeing its re runs. It never fails to crack me up. One of my favourite character was Rachel, played so well by Hollywood heartthrob Jennifer Aniston. Golden Globe and Emmy award-winning actress partners with Emirates for its product campaign! Hollywood actress par excellence, a director and producer Jennifer Aniston makes a return to the Emirates A380.

She makes a new friend, in a new global digital and TV advertising campaign for the world’s best airline*. The cool new ad is a follow up on the successful first Emirates-Jennifer Aniston ad launched last year. It was a much talked-about campaign and took no time in going viral. On the lines of the first light-hearted TVC, my favourite actress lends her unique personality, classic style, and that quintessential touch of humour (which never failed to crack me up), to put A380 in spotlight.

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The advertisement begins with Jennifer exiting her shower room. Jen was freshening up in the Shower Spa when she found the feisty young boy who whiled away his time playing in her Private Suite in the Emirates First Class cabin. Surprised, she remarks to the little boy, “Oh, can I help you Sir?” It is this inimitable style of her which has turned me into her fan for life! As they exchange banter, the two end up finding friendship. The two strike up a conversation. “My name is Jennifer but my friends call me Jen.” Jennifer tells him. “My name is Cooper but you can call me Coop!”, the kiddo retorts, perhaps oblivious to the star

that Jen is!  They build rapport strolling nonchalantly through Emirates’ Business Class cabin and Onboard Lounge, causing much curiosity to the co passengers, the audience is hooked to know what happens next.

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What happens next is heartwarming and warms up the cockles. While they were sitting and chatting on the stairs between the lower and upper decks of the aircraft, Cooper confesses to Jen about his dream of becoming a pilot – of ‘this plane’. “But this is the best plane Jen, So I only want to fly this very plane!” He innocently points to his model Emirates A380 aircraft.

As they walk up the aisle, Cooper reunited with his parents in Economy Class. The parents are taken aback when they see Jen. Jennifer swaps the seat with Cooper’s mother and enjoys Emirates’ ice inflight entertainment system with Cooper. Cooper’s mother is excited and makes the most of Jennifer’s Private Suite.

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Boutros Boutros, Emirates’ Divisional Senior Vice President, Corporate Communications, Marketing & Brand explained: “A year ago, when we launched our first ad featuring Jennifer Aniston, we were overwhelmed by what a social phenomenon it became. The humour resonated with audiences around the world, and the ad was viewed by millions of people, generating thousands of conversations. Fans of both Emirates and Jennifer loved her effortless charm and humour, and enjoyed a story that deviated from traditional airline advertising.

“We were overrun with requests to see Jennifer again. She has an enduring, universal appeal that is at once sophisticated, but also down to earth – a great match for our brand. This new ad perfectly captures the fun, spontaneity and glamour of flying on Emirates, and we are confident audiences will find it as memorable as the first.”

The TVC was directed by industry veteran and Oscar-nominee Bryan Buckley, who is acclaimed for his numerous Super Bowl ads. The script and creative concept was a collaboration between Buckley and Emirates’ in-house advertising team and produced in conjunction with the WPP Group.

The TVC can be viewed on the Emirates website or on the Emirates YouTubechannel, Facebook page, Twitter and Instagram. Fans can join the conversation using the tag #JensBack.

Emirates has recently been awarded the 2016 Skytrax World Airline Awards and I can see why. As I was watching the TVC, my roving eyes got a glimpse of the insides of Emirates. Not only was the suite ultra luxurious but even the economy class looked like a must try in the advertisement. I harbored the dream of flying in Emirates one day and played the TVC one more time. The quintessential Jen fans will understand!

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AIR ARABIA : CONNECTING PEOPLE, CONNECTING CULTURES AT LOW COST!

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As a travel blogger, I enjoy experiencing different airlines. I keep my eyes peeled for what is new and unfamiliar. Traveling with Air Arabia was a smooth experience. When I learnt that my flight from Delhi (India) to Amman (Jordan) will be via Sharjah (U.A.E.), I was secretly delighted. It meant that I will get to explore 3 airports in three different countries via 4 flights. I was looking forward to the variety of experiences.

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Not tress but shapes we saw from aircraft as we approached Amman

As the air hostess welcomed us aboard Air Arabia aircraft at a sleepy 4 a.m. in Delhi, my sleep went for a toss when I found I have been allotted the front seat with extra leg space. On top of it, it was a window seat. Just the way I like it (You know how this blog was named?). I peeped out of the window to see Delhi one last time till I finish my brief romance with the beauty called Jordan.

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Bin and Mohamed took good care of us!

Bathed in yellow lights, Delhi looked so close yet so far. Many migrants from India work in the Middle East, either temporarily or permanently. I realized, this must also be their last sight of India before they returned after spending 1-5 years or more in a foreign land. It must have been an emotional and poignant moment for them. Whether they left India or entered! On my return flight from Amman to Sharjah to Delhi, I was amused to find it inundated with Indians, Nepalese, Bangladeshis in the aircraft. It was great for people watching and engaging in small talks with co passengers. Moments like these help you understand humanity better.

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My Co passenger was an emotional Shephali from Bangladesh. She was returning home after 3 years 🙂

Not everyone can afford to travel to far off lands on a luxurious budget. This is when Air Arabia comes as a rescue. It is a low cost flight but with all the modern facilities. I found the leg space to be really good for a budget airline. As someone who is 6 feet, 1 inch tall, I often end up struggling for leg space. However, on later flights (When I did not have the benefit of extra leg space) I still found it easy to make my way through the passengers in middle seat for those loo breaks.

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The scenes from window seat as we approached Sharjah!

I particularly liked the automated screens which displayed safety instructions by kids. The screen would unfold and fold automatically at the start of the flight. It was followed by an Arabic prayer for the well being of the passengers.

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Bin serving fajita packets to Shefali

I found the staff to be courteous, cheerful and attentive. Their prompt responses completed my Air Arabia experience. I was happy to know their staff could converse in English, Hindi, Arabic and even Korean. On one of our flights, the attendant happened to be Enis Bouyahia. Enis is the ‘face of Air Arabia’ and one can see his face on the posters in cities like Dubai. You can follow him on instagram at @enisbouyahia

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Enis the face of Air Arabia ; Nawras, the informative in flight magazine.

Coming to food, I liked the Veg Biryani which was accompanied with a delicious Raita, Gulab Jamun and fruit juice. Vegetable fajita was okayish though filling. However Paneer Masala would have been better with a little less salt in it. The flavoured tea was good. However, Masala Dosa can be scrapped off the menu. It is one dish which should always be served fresh off the griddle. It is a wrong choice for aircraft food.

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Amman airport : Interiors

Good news is that Sharjah, Amman, Alexandria, Casablanca, Ras Al Khaimah are the 5 hubs Air Arabia flies to and they have a total of 44 airbus (A320s). They fly to more than 100 airports and from 13 cities in India. And did I forget to tell you, they are low cost! I feel it’s great for those who want to travel on foreign shores for work or for pleasure. It caters to both sectors.  I was already dreaming of flying to exotic cities like Casablanca and Alexandria with Air Arabia.

YOU WILL LOVE READING THESE BLOGS ON JORDAN:

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Amman airport : Exteriors

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Disclaimer : My flights were sponsored by Air Arabia in association with Jordan Tourism Board. I was invited by both for a Press Trip